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Stephen King's ‘Elevation’ an uncanny, uplifting experience

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When one hears about a new Stephen King novel, one has certain expectations. We know that it is going to be a compelling story. We know that it will feature mysterious, likely supernatural elements. We know that the ideas resting beneath the narrative surface will be thoughtful and engaging.

And we know that chances are good that it will be long.

Not so with King’s latest. Titled “Elevation” (Scribner, $19.95), the author’s latest is a much slimmer story than we usually see from him – just shy of 150 pages. Have no fear, however – this Castle Rock tale more than meets all the other expectations you might have. But while the inexplicable and uncanny are present, this book isn’t ABOUT that. It’s a charmer of a feel-good story that illustrates the breadth of King’s talents, breaking some new ground while still doing what he does best.

Scott Carey is just a regular guy. He’s in his 40s, divorced and living alone in a house in Castle Rock that was too big even before his wife moved out. He’s a graphic designer living a sedentary lifestyle; he goes to the gym, but he’s still a big dude who’s slowly getting bigger.

But suddenly, he’s also getting … lighter.

Not smaller – he’s got the same protruding gut. He’s as large as ever. But every time he steps onto a scale, he weighs less. This despite no outward change. And it gets even weirder – see, he weighs less no matter how many clothes he has on, what he has in his pockets or holds in his hands. For some unknown reason, Scott has a new, inexplicable relationship with gravity.

He shares his concerns with his old friend, the retired Dr. Bob, but swears him to secrecy. Scott’s not interested in the hubbub that would likely follow the revelation of his condition to the world. He feels fine – better than fine, actually – and so opts to keep it all under wraps and handle it himself.

As part of his new outlook, Scott decides to try and settle a simmering dispute with his neighbors; the married lesbian couple that opened the new Mexican place in town have been letting their dogs poop on his lawn and not cleaning it up. When he asked one of the women about it – Deirdre – she shut him down. But when he finds proof, the victory isn’t as satisfying as he’d anticipated.

See, things have been tough in Castle Rock for Deirdre and her wife Missy. There are plenty of older, old-fashioned folks who don’t much care for Deirdre and Missy’s relationship … or their presence in town. It’s a reality that Scott never noticed before – or at least, one he never cared to notice.

And so, as the pounds disappear and the aptly-titled Zero Day approaches on the calendar, Scott decides to do something about both his own prejudices and those of his town – something involving the town’s annual Thanksgiving 12K.

King has always had an exceptional ability to capture the vagaries of small towns, detailing both the positive and the negative. This town in particular has long been one of the author’s favored settings, but we get something a little different with “Elevation.” There’s more than a hint of Bedford Falls to the Castle Rock we see here; we’re shown a man who, when faced with an utterly uncertain future, chooses to embrace the time he has left.

The weirdness of Scott’s condition is a key part of the narrative, obviously. But at its heart – its very, VERY big heart – “Elevation” is a story about the connections that hold us together, the familial and social ties that bind. It’s about what it means to come untethered from the world around us and be left adrift. It’s about small minds in small towns and how, believe it or not, those minds could possibly be changed.

Of course, this being Stephen King, keep an eye out for Easter eggs and other ephemera; names, places, references to events – there are plenty of winks and nods to loyal readers in here. But ultimately, it’s a story about Scott Carey and the unknown forces that prompt him to connect – to truly connect – in ways that he never could before.

When well-meaning critics refer to Stephen King as “The Master of Horror,” one could argue that they’re doing the man a disservice. Not that he isn’t our preeminent horror author – he absolutely is – but books like this one are perfect illustrations of how his work can transcend genre. He is as sophisticated a storyteller as there is in American letters, full stop. No qualifiers needed. He’s one of the greatest we’ve got.

And that’s the joy of reading King – the man’s devotion to his craft is unceasing and his evolution as a storyteller is never-ending. He has never before gifted us with so uplifting a work, but with a title like “Elevation,” we probably shouldn’t be surprised.

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